Quick look at gynecology tests and exams
Gynecology exams and testing are routine checks on the general health and development of female patients’ reproductive system and organs.
Common examinations performed by gynecologists include annual wellness exams, Pap smears and ultrasounds.
The benefit of regular gynecology examinations is the specialist’s ability to identify gynecologic health problems and treat them. Patients and their doctor talk about periods, sex, family planning, menopause and overall health concerns during exams.
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Benefits of regular gynecology examinations
A woman will likely have her first gynecology appointment when she is in her late teens or early 20s and she should continue to see a gynecologist regularly throughout her life. We suggest that all women receive regular gynecology exams by a healthcare provider specifically trained in female reproductive health.
Gynecologists can diagnose conditions and abnormalities with a woman’s reproductive system, as well as check for cervical or vaginal cancer and abnormal growths. A gynecologist will evaluate the health of a woman’s breasts, pelvis, vagina, cervix, uterus and rectum during exams. Women often use this time with their gynecologist to discuss topics such as birth control, family planning and sexual health.
What are the different gynecology examinations?
Different gynecology examinations are appropriate depending on a patient’s age and her diagnosed gynecological conditions. These are the gynecology exams that CU Rocky Mountain OB-GYN offers:
- Annual exam
- Breast exam
- Pap smear
- Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP).
An ultrasound utilizes high-frequency sound waves and a computer to produce an image of a specific internal area of the body. During an ultrasound a doctor, nurse or technician will move a transducer over an area that will show images of the internal organs on the monitor.
Gynecologists use ultrasounds to identify the age, development and gender of a fetus during a pregnancy. Ultrasounds can also be used to diagnose ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids or polyps, or other gynecologic abnormalities. Ultrasound can also assist doctors with accuracy while performing certain medical procedures such as a biopsy.
A Pap smear is a test in which a gynecologist collects and examines cells from the cervix, which is the opening of a woman’s uterus that connects to her vagina. This test screens for inflammation, infection and abnormal cells that could be an indication of cervical cancer or other problems. Cervical cancer can often be cured if it is detected early.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that women should start getting a Pap smear test at age 21. During a Pap smear, the woman lies on her back on the exam table with her feet in stirrups. The doctor gently inserts a speculum into her vagina and takes a swab of cells.
These cells are then sent to a laboratory for testing. A Pap smear will either be normal or abnormal. A gynecologist will advise if further testing or follow-up is needed for patients with an abnormal Pap smear.
Annual gynecology examinations
An annual gynecological exam is a health screening by a women’s healthcare professional that all women over 18 should receive once a year. Patients should feel comfortable with the provider they choose and feel free to discuss personal issues. During this visit a provider will usually perform a complete physical exam and breast exam, as well as check for cervical dysplasia, menstrual disorders or issues with menopause if appropriate.
Annual gynecology exams provide an opportunity for women to discuss any health questions regarding:
- Menstruation and period problems
- Family planning and birth control
- Sex and sexuality
- Breast health
A gynecologist will do a colposcopy test if a woman has abnormal cells found on a Pap smear. The procedure involves an instrument called a colposcope, which is a microscope on a stand. The doctor gently inserts a speculum into the patient’s vagina and then examines the cervix with the microscope.
The colposcope has a magnifying lens and light that allow the doctor to see a magnified image of the cervix and vaginal tissue. The doctor will be looking for abnormalities in the color structure and pattern of the area.
Sometimes the doctor will perform a cervical biopsy by taking a small sample of the tissue for further testing in a laboratory. Abnormal cells can be referred to as precancerous cells, though they may not yet be cervical cancer.
Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP)
A loop electrosurgical excision procedure can be done when abnormal cells are found during a Pap smear test. Gynecologists perform LEEP to remove tissue and test for abnormal cells.
LEEP uses a thin wire loop heated by an electric current to remove a small piece of the tissue containing the abnormal cells. The layer of tissue that was removed will be sent to a laboratory for further testing.
Another benefit of LEEP is that it can be used to remove abnormal cells so that healthy cells can grow in their place. LEEP can be used in both diagnosing and treating polyps, genital warts and diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure. The procedure for LEEP begins with a colposcopy because the gynecologist uses a colposcope to view the cervix while passing the LEEP wire along the area of concern.